NFL Players Association files collusion claim against league
NFLPA alleges owners sought to suppress wages in 2010, which had no salary cap
League contends claims have no merit and it fully expects them to be dismissed
Claim will be heard in Minnesota by Judge David Doty, longtime thorn in NFL's side
For the second time in 17 months, the Players Association has filed a collusion claim against the NFL, alleging that owners sought to suppress wages in 2010 when there was no salary cap.
The union is basing its case, in part, on recent legal briefs and testimony from the arbitration hearing involving the Cowboys and Redskins, who unsuccessfully sought to reverse league sanctions that stripped them of $46 million in salary cap over the next two seasons.
The league claimed the teams sought an unfair competitive advantage by spiking salaries in the uncapped year to gain financial flexibility in future seasons, when the salary cap was expected to be reinstated as part of a new collective bargaining agreement.
Several media outlets reported that the league's 32 teams were told in advance not to overload contracts in 2010. The union is arguing that the admonition was a form of collusion and now is seeking damages that could approach $1 billion if trebled.
"When the rules are broken in a way that hurts the game, we have an obligation to act. We cannot standby when we now know that the owners conspired to collude," said DeMaurice Smith, NFLPA Executive Director.
The league responded to the news by saying, "The filing of these claims is prohibited by the Collective Bargaining Agreement and separately by an agreement signed by the players' attorneys last August. The claims have absolutely no merit and we fully expect them to be dismissed. On multiple occasions, the players and their representatives specifically dismissed all claims, known or unknown, whether pending or not, regarding alleged violations of the 2006 CBA and the related settlement agreement. We continue to look forward to focusing on the future of the game rather than grievances of a prior era that have already been resolved."
An interesting side note: The claim was filed Wednesday morning in Minneapolis, where it will be heard by Judge David Doty, a longtime thorn in the league's side. Most recently Doty last spring reversed a ruling that would have granted the owners access to $4 billion in television revenues during the lockout.
That matter was ultimately resolved as part of the "global settlement" to finalize the new collective bargaining agreement. The initial collusion case was included in the settlement, but the union believes the penalties against the Cowboys and Redskins gave them grounds for filing a new claim because it didn't learn of the league's "secret" attempt to control spending until after the sides agreed on the new CBA.
The Players Association is claiming the league violated terms of the Stipulation and Settlement Agreement that was the backbone of the previous CBA by "imposing a secret $123 million per club salary cap" for the uncapped season. It further alleges that 28 teams abided by the "secret salary cap," and the four who didn't were disciplined this offseason. The Redskins and Cowboys were stripped of cap space, and the Saints and Raiders were prevented from receiving the extra cap dollars that were taken from Washington and Dallas and redistributed to the rest of the league.
"I thought the penalties imposed were proper ...," Giants owner John Mara said after the Redskins and Cowboys were disciplined. "What they did was in violation of the spirit of the salary cap. They attempted to take advantage of a one-year loophole and, quite frankly, I think they're lucky they didn't lose draft picks."
The Redskins made significant adjustments to the contracts of defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth and cornerback DeAngelo Hall, thereby creating cap flexibility in 2011 and beyond; and the Cowboys signed wideout Miles Austin to a six-year extension that included a staggering $17 million salary in 2010, freeing up cap space in future seasons.
Washington and Dallas argued that they violated no rules and, therefore, should not have been punished. The league said there was no cap violation, but said the teams sought to gain a competitive advantage.
The case ultimately could come down to an interpretation of language in both the previous and current collective bargaining agreements. The earlier version said the league is released from any "pending" claims; the union is arguing that this is a new claim based on a violation of the stipulation and settlement agreement.
The league, conversely, is expected to rely on language in the new CBA that releases the NFL from liability for "any pending claims and any claims known and unknown." That language seems to strongly support the NFL.
The case is yet another example of the frosty relationship between the league and union. Since finalizing the new CBA in August, the sides have battled over HGH testing, the Saints bounty scandal, mandatory equipment changes, and, now, collusion claims.